Supercomputer takes on HIV

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Supercomputer takes on HIV

World's most powerful system turns to bio-tech work.

IBM's famous Roadrunner supercomputing cluster has kicked off a new effort to research treatments for the HIV virus.

The company said that the system, currently housed in the Los Alamos laboratory in California, would be processing genetic information in hopes of helping to create a new vaccine.

First launched in 2008, Roadrunner quickly staked its claim as not only the fastest supercomputing system on the planet, but also the first system with the ability to perform more than one trillion operations per second.

Roadrunner operates as cluster of IBM BladeCenter modules and is centred on the company's new Cell processor. The system has previously been used to model climate change and map out neuron activity in the human brain.

In its latest project, Roadrunner will analyse some 10,000 genetic sequences collected from HIV patients. Researchers hope that by breaking down and analysing the genetic data, scientists could be able to develop a new vaccine that is able to detect and eliminate the virus in the human body before it has a chance to mutate and spread.

The Roadrunner effort is indicative of the changing rolls which supercomputing systems have adopted over the last two decades. First emerging in the aftermath of World War II, the high-performance computing industry was fed largely by the arms races of the Cold War.

In the years since, the use of supercomputing systems has moved to such areas as biomedical research, geographic mapping and scientific modelling applications such as climate models and physics simulations.

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